Vanuatu has a rapidly growing, mostly rural population spread over 80 islands, which makes it very difficult to access health services. Cataracts are still one of the major causes of blindness and almost 60 per cent of people with diabetes have diabetes eye disease.
In 2001 we launched the country’s first national eye care programme. Before this, there was one eye clinic with a part-time eye nurse using outdated equipment. Over the next five years, we trained eye specialists, set up two surgical centres, and equipped four provincial hospitals with eye clinics.
In 2015 the Ministry of Health agreed to help us reach our goal of training three new eye doctors. The following year we began training Dr Johnson Kasso, who graduated at the end of 2018 and has now returned home as the country's first eye doctor.
We helped established a diabetes eye disease programme in Port Vila to increase awareness of how living with diabetes can affect your eye health. Local Foundation-trained eye nurses teach general nurses how to refer their patients to get their eyes tests so that patients with diabetes eye disease can be screened and treated faster.
In early 2019, we opened the new Vanuatu National Eye Centre in Port Vila following a $2.5 million upgrade and expansion of the previous centre. The upgraded eye centre, combined with the recent return of Dr Kasso, will go a long way to increasing Vanuatu’s eye surgery capacity from 200 to 800 per year. This will meet the surgical rate target to eliminate avoidable blindness in the country, as estimated by the World Health Organization.